Fork in the Road: Stronger than you think
But wait; before you get judgemental on dear old pops, allow me to elaborate. As with everything, one’s circumstances provide insight to one’s point of view and associated values. In other words, believe it or not, this was his attempt to provide “words of encouragement.”
The stock on my father’s side hails from Sicily and Calabrese. His father and great uncles all fought in WWII and were among the mere handful of survivors to live, following a massive attack on their ship near the beaches of Normandy. As for my dad himself? Well, for a good chunk of his life, he was a professional athlete (a strongman, no less!) who accumulated an entire tabletop of trophies and accolades. Suffice it to say, physical prowess, courage and a strong will are hardwired into my DNA. Demonstrating weakness (or letting down one’s guard), on the other hand, was simply not an option for my forefathers.
But here’s the thing: despite my heritage, I’m still a member of the fairer sex. And I possess intense emotions (including, God forbid, the ability and sometimes desire to cry up a storm)? Well, whether I want ’em, I got ’em! But wait…That’s no dig at women. I’m a feminist, don’tcha know? Rather it’s an acknowledgement of one of the central differences between how gents and dames are socialized: i.e. what’s considered “appropriate” as far as the expression of emotion?
While I could write essays on the many issues that result from perpetuating gendered socialization practices (including the negative impact they have as far as developing healthy communication practices in opposite sex relationships!), for the purposes of our discussion here today, our focus will purely revolve around what defines strength and weakness.
A gander at the synonyms listed in the thesaurus for the terms in question prove illuminating: the word “strength” is associated with force, vigour and/or bodily or muscular power, whereas the synonyms for “weakness” include feeble, fragile, frail and perhaps most importantly, impotent. Though I’ll spare you from a full on linguistics history lesson about the patriarchal influence on language, I believe that it’s clear that the words “strength” and “weakness” themselves have been gendered.
Not to get Freudian on you, but for impotence to be considered a characteristic of weakness, this definition suggests it’s not possible to possess strength unless one has sexual vigour (specifically of the male variety) and as women don’t possess the proper equipment, they would never, consequently, be capable of real strength. Ouch! Sound like a stretch? Well, the definition of strength as “bodily or muscular power” is not really any less biased considering that, on average, women are smaller-framed and therefore physically incapable of handling the same amount of weight or force as men (again, on average).
But enough wordplay already. The deal is this: despite what you may have heard (or read!) growing up, there is no one definition of any attribute that can be applied across the board. Beyond the gender debate, what constitutes a demonstration of strength in one culture may be highly different in another, such as surviving with little to no food days on end to demonstrate devotion to a cause vs. competing in a log throw. I rest my case.
In conclusion, if I’ve learned anything in my 29 years of battles and triumphs, it’s that strength can equally be shown by willingness to fight/defend as well as knowledge of when to walk away. One cannot fairly assess their degree of strength by comparing to others how they handle life’s stresses as to do so would again imply there’s only one proper definition of the term. Finally and most importantly, sorry, Dad, I’ve gotta set the record straight: to peel back entirely the layers of one’s vulnerability and open up those tear ducts for others to see takes more strength than anything else I know.
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